MFAN Statement: Severe Cuts in House Bill Would Harm Poor People, Set Back U.S. Leadership, Roll Back Reforms

July 27, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann and George Ingram:

The severe cuts to U.S. foreign assistance proposed yesterday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations (SFOPS) would fall hardest on the world’s poorest people, millions of whom are alive and thriving today because of U.S. leadership on international development over the last decade. Although we acknowledge that the U.S. must confront the budget challenges it faces, in part by making reasonable cuts across the board, we adamantly believe that the less than 1% of the federal budget that is spent on development-focused foreign assistance is a critical investment in our global leadership and an important indicator of our values as a nation.

The U.S. government, under the leadership of President George W. Bush and with bipartisan support in Congress,  drove unprecedented gains in global health and development starting in 2001. Just a decade later, we are on the cusp of turning those gains into sustainable, long-term progress. At the same time, the challenges we face on other fronts are bigger and more complex. Yet the SFOPS bill would lead to a wholesale retreat from the commitments we have made and the partnerships we have forged. It would also roll back the huge progress that has been achieved in making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable, impeding ongoing efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are getting into the hands of people who need our help.

We are particularly concerned about a few key pieces of the SFOPS bill:

  • The bill focuses too heavily on development as a security concern. Although we believe development is an important piece of our national security, looking at development solely through a security lens leaves an untold number of countries and people out of the picture whose lives have benefited from U.S. assistance over the past decade. This can cause us to miss opportunities to foster stability in emerging crisis areas before they require expensive and dangerous intervention by the U.S. military, and hinder our ability to open markets to U.S. products and businesses. .
  • The bill would cut the budgets of the State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) so severely that neither would be able to invest in staffing, reforms, and innovation needed to deal with the increasingly complex global challenges we face.
  • In particular, the bill also proposes huge cuts to USAID’s Operating Expense account. This would be an incredibly harmful action, because USAID’s operating budget is what is being used to drive reforms that are allowing the agency to do more with every taxpayer dollar it receives for development, including by providing adequate oversight of its programs and measuring their effectiveness. Operating expenses are also used by the agency to prepare its next generation of leaders, and the cuts would force an end to programs like the Development Leadership Initiative, begun under President Bush, which trains some of our best and brightest young people to spearhead engagement with developing countries, the fastest growing markets in the world. Combined with the proposal last week by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to shutter USAID’s budget office, these cuts would make it nearly impossible to reach the goal of rebuilding USAID into the leading development organization in the world.

Should this bill be passed in its current form, the good will that the U.S. has built in the developing world, and the leverage we have gained to open up opportunities for our own economy, would be lost. Given how competitive and complex the world has become, it could take decades of huge investments to rebuild our programs and our influence. During the 1980s and 1990s, we witnessed the profound effects of depleting our development workforce overseas in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa. We urge Members of Congress to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and consider the huge negative impacts that these budget cuts would have on our leadership, our global influence, and the poor people who we have tried to help build better lives.

 

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